Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Meals Fit for a King on Display

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Meals Fit for a King on Display

Article excerpt

Versailles Palace opens its doors next month for a glittering exhibition of three centuries of royal eating habits, which shaped the table manners of Europe.

When Louis XIV, the sovereign whose centralized power earned him the title of "Sun King," transferred the French court to Versailles in 1682, the fork had just been introduced and glasses were never seen on tables.

"The rituals, instruments and symbols of the royal meal," said Versailles director Jean-Luc Babelon, "have helped spawn table etiquette as we know it in Europe today."

From the 17th century to the 19th century, it was in Europe that the knife and the fork came into use as a means of not transgressing a taboo on touching food.

Through the Middle Ages, feudal overlords had come to understand that banquets meant power. The richer the table setting, the greater was their prestige.

But these were times of turmoil when the threat of poison dominated meals. Tasters sampled the food for medieval noblemen, and potions of viper's tongues and the like were used in the belief that they were protection against contamination.

Louis XIV was ceremonial, eating in public twice a day, at 1 p.m. seated alone and at 10 p.m. flanked by his family. Members of the court, seated or standing according to rank, watched the "Officers of the Mouth" carry in the successive courses.

Louis XV and Louis XVI abhorred the ceremony and reduced the public sittings to one a week, retiring for the remaining meals to a "dining-room," then a new concept.

In the 17th century, French royalty introduced a new form of serving meals known as service a la francaise, or French service, emulated in foreign courts until it lost favor to the 19th-century fashion of service a la russe, or Russian service.

The so-called French style was to place food on the table in dishes in such a way that guests could help themselves without disturbing the dish. …

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